(503) 222-6678 - Portland, Oregon
(360) 256-0448 Vancouver, Washington


ADD in Adults
Parenting a Child with ADD
Coping with Anxiety Disorders
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Overcoming Depression
Managing Stress
Conquering Fears & Phobias
Overcoming Social Phobia
Couples at Work & Home
Dual Career Couples
Families in Business
Recognizing High Conflict Divorce
Conflict & Communication
Couples at Work & Home
Love, Sex & Intimacy
Maintaining Strong Marriage
Dual Career Couples
Advice for Singles Only
Alcoholism Recovery
Stop Smoking
Weight Control
Headache Relief
Holistic Health
Managing Blood Pressure
Releasing Unresolved Stress
Am I a Good Parent
Blended Families
Gifted Child
Coping with ADD/ADHD
Adoptive Families
Gifted Adults
When to Seek Help
Psychotherapy Options
Laid-Off from Work
Calendar of Events
Media Coverage
Press Center
Related New Stories
Enriching Your Live Archive
Entrepreneurial Couples Archive

Enriching Your Life!

Sign up for my FREE newsletter! Get practical tips for you and your family.

Articles - Entrepreneurial Couples

Couples can balance dynamics of decision-making process

Thursday, November 23, 2000

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Have you ever wondered why the symbol for "Justice" is a woman and she's blind to boot? Or another curiosity is that the statue in New York harbor, representing the United States of America is Lady Liberty. What is it that these female spirits represent? Why are women the symbol of our judicial system and the country as a whole? I think a partial answer may come from observing the growth of entrepreneurship among American women, both as solo entrepreneurs and as entrepreneurial couples.

Now that women are starting businesses in record numbers (i.e. three to five times the rate of men!) there are many more stories about startups that involve women entrepreneurs. Especially the Internet and telecommuting have opened an avalanche of opportunities for women. Women are also better educated than before and many are educated in traditionally male dominated fields such as business management, the sciences, and engineering. As a result we are gathering more and more information on how these women function as entrepreneurs and how they are different than men.

In spite of parity in education, equal access to financing and an Internet marketplace that doesn't impose gender restrictions, there are a few male/female traditions that hold. When the owner is female you may not see much difference in a company, either with the product or the revenue. However, the differences between male and female entrepreneurs become more apparent when a husband and wife equally own and operate a company. Management, decision-making, even operations are powerfully influenced by these style differences. This can be an asset, of course . . . the integration of a male perspective and a female perspective. But often a husband and wife get stuck because they do not recognize the dynamic that is going on.

One of the most interesting of these dynamics between a husband and a wife who are both entrepreneurs is how they make decisions. One way I sum it up is that men make the first best decision, but women seek out the best-best decision. In the fashion of Lady Justice (where the blindfold represents impartiality), women want to look at all sides of an issue before deciding anything. They value everyone's opinion in the process of moving toward a decision. They may have a strong opinion themselves, but like the blind Lady, they are willing to stay impartial until they have gathered enough information from others. Men on the other hand seek to move the organization along as swiftly as possible. Regardless of everyone's view, men tend to value the efficiency of getting to the answer quickly. If a man has an opinion, dialogue with others is not always to merely gather information, but to persuade others toward his point of view.

How does this dynamic work when a husband/wife team needs to make decisions together? If they understand each other well, then the decision-making dynamic is powerful. If they don't, then each party can feel very misunderstood. For example, if the wife is gathering information from her husband regarding some aspect of the business, then she may initiate a discussion with her husband. He often doesn't hear that she wants to discuss the subject. Rather he hears that she wants him to make a decision. Therefore he tells her his decision and considers the discussion completed. She leaves unfulfilled because she wants to toss ideas around before a decision is made. Later when the husband's decision is not carried out, the husband may feel frustrated because he thought a decision had been made. Sound familiar? It's because women tend to have discussions and men tend to go strait to decisions.

When a husband and wife work together there is the potential to create a strong leadership for their organization. When a husband recognizes that his wife needs an impartial discussion with a variety of options before deciding, she feels understood and more inclined to move toward decisive action.

When a wife recognizes that her husband has a need to get things done as efficiently as possible, she can refocus her energy onto solutions, even if she would like just a little more discussion.

Lady Liberty represents this principle of the combined talent and energy of an entrepreneurial couple. That is, a woman was chosen to represent America rather than a conquering male warrior, because of the desire to represent our country as welcoming immigrants (i.e. ". . . give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"). Lady liberty is carrying a torch in her hand, not a sword, symbolizing the enlightenment of democracy that shines out to the world. She holds the Declaration of Independence in the other hand as evidence that we are all created equal. On her ankle is a chain that is broken, representing freedom from oppression. Yet the statue is enormous, representing strong and powerful leadership and even domination in the world.

In other words, when making a business decision an entrepreneurial couple can combine the wife's strengths and the husband's strengths, and may just be what the business needs to keep its competitive edge in the marketplace. Just as Lady Liberty welcomes immigrants, the wife can welcome a variety of options and possible solutions to a problem, weighing those options impartially just as Lady Justice does. Lady Liberty also represents decision making in that she is holding the Declaration of Independence or the law of the land, just as the husband's strength is to get the decision made and follow it with action, as is implied by the sword that Lady Justice holds. In either case, whether it be the husband's or the wife's decision-making strategy, the goal is a fair decision, something both Ladies stand tall for.

To be sure many women entrepreneurs have the same decision-making qualities as men do. And there are male entrepreneurs who carefully weigh options before deciding. However, it is the interaction between men and women where you see the tendency to lean toward the more traditional roles. If you work with your spouse, you probably know what I am talking about. Now take this awareness and use it to the fullest to take your enterprise to a new height and enlighten the world with your success.

Beat divorce statistics: Communicate as mate, not business partner

Friday, July 07, 2000

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

I got a call this week from a journalist (Business Week) wanting information on entrepreneurial couples who face divorce. When journalists call for an interview I get a queasy feeling in my stomach. I'm not worried about a Sixty- Minutes-Expose where I'll say something so embarrassing that the whole nation will think I'm ignorant. My concern is that there are the inevitable questions about statistics. As we all know statistics are often about as confusing and useful as software manuals written by Korean engineers and translated into English.

It's not that I can't reel off statistics with the best of them. I am a researcher after all. I have graduate degrees . . . two of them! But when it comes to statistics about families in business, or entrepreneurial couples, the numbers are thin. The SBA does not keep statistics on these populations. The National Association for Women Business Owners reports on women-owned businesses, but not on couple-owned businesses. The most fascinating thing about this lack of information is that it is estimated that over half of the gross national product comes from family owned firms and half of American works in them! So where are the numbers?

To make matters worse this particular journalist wanted statistics on divorce rates among entrepreneurial couples. Further she wanted to know the statistics on those couples who get divorced and still choose to stay business partners. This is a pretty narrow segment of the population. As exasperating as these requests are for statistics (i.e., I get requests for such interviews about once a month) what this tells me is that there is a rapidly growing interest in the subject. Not just the media, but the public wants to know more about entrepreneurial couples . . . how they do it, how they survive it, how they prosper, how they keep love alive in the fast-paced cutthroat world of the national/international marketplace.

If you also want statistics, I will disappoint you too. I just don't know how many entrepreneurial couples out there get divorced or avoid divorce. However, I can confidently tell how to manage it either way.

First, if your marriage/business partnership has already disintegrated to the point of divorce and you really feel there is no turning back, seek the advice of a competent matrimonial attorney. Your business attorney cannot help you here. A marriage is unlike any other business contract you have entered. Most sophisticated business people are shocked to discover the entanglements created by being married and business partners. Your matrimonial lawyer will help with the marital and business division. But it will be costly and take more time than you could possibly conceive; certainly more time than it took to sign your marriage license at the courthouse.

But let's assume that things have not gone this far awry. In fact, let's assume that you two are happily married and the business is thriving and you would just like to prevent trouble. Simply, the best insurance against divorce is to attend to the relationship first, the business second. Sadly, the opposite seems to be what most entrepreneurial couples do. The pull of the business is strong, immediate and concrete. The pull of the marriage is strong too, but not as immediate and certainly fuzzy. Because it is easier to react and answer the phone call rather than remember to say something loving to one's spouse, the typical entrepreneur opts for responding to business needs first. But the truth is it is pretty simple to maintain a relationship and much more complicated to run a business, so it seems the average entrepreneur could work both into their hectic schedule.

Business is about competition and marriage is about love. In business the goal is to compete, to win, to make a profit. In marriage there is no goal, but rather a process . . . that of exchanging love. Being loving and receiving love are the basics of a healthy marriage. How much work is love anyway? How much effort is there in telling your spouse he or she is loved? How hard is it to carve out one night a month to go on a date? Is it such an extravagance to bring home flowers for your sweetheart or treat him or her to basketball tickets? Along with all of the other e-mails you respond to each day, would it take so much of your precious work time to send an e-mail of appreciation to your spouse too?

It's not that entrepreneurial couples don't have time for their loved ones. It's that the goal orientation of the business takes over. Always in the competitive mode from dawn to dusk, the entrepreneur ticks one item after another off of their daily agenda. Being loving is not on the list. Accomplishment is. In business the point of any conversation is the bottom line or the close. In a marriage the point of the conversation is rapport, staying emotionally connected with one another, or feeling loved. When there are not only one but two entrepreneurs in the marriage, such as with entrepreneurial couples, the focus can be so much on the business, and on the business mode of communication, that love is left in the dust as the couple races to out distance their competition and create financial independence. With this approach, however, they also risk total independence from each other as well. One day there may be statistics on the number of entrepreneurial couples who end their marriages. But if you don't want to be one of those divorce statistics then immediately implement this simple plan. Put the marriage first by doing one loving thing each day for your spouse. You can do battle and conquer all day long in the business world, but at the end of your day, switch modes and have a conversation about nothing at all with your spouse. Don't search for the bottom line. Don't anticipate the close. Instead hold her hand, look into his eyes, talk a little, and congratulate yourself on how lucky you are to have a business partner who is the love of your life.

Keeping secrets in your family or business creates a tangled web

Friday, May 05, 2000

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

"It'll just make things worse if I tell him."

Janice was getting more and more anxious as the days and weeks went by. The bills were mounting, the creditors were calling, the first bank note was due in one month, and sales were miserable. Janice and her husband had just begun a business expansion that they had dreamed and planned for over the last five years. They were positive it was a winner and were thrilled when the bank backed them up. While Cary blazed ahead with building, hiring, warehousing and so forth, Janice as CFO handled the creative financing.

Unfortunately Janice was just a little too creative with the financing. Because the dream was too important she stretched things further than they could be stretched. Cary never questioned his wife and was unaware that they were heading for financial disaster. Janice on the other hand kept trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

When Janice first discovered her miscalculations, she was mortified. She was too embarrassed to tell Cary, so instead tried to solve the problem on her own. As the financial problems increased, she started shifting money from one account to another, staying one step ahead of her creditors. She convinced herself that Cary was too busy with the project to be bothered by the financial problems. She rationalized that these problems were temporary because any day now she would find a solution. Janice loved her husband and didn't want to disappoint him either. She felt he would be crushed to discover that not only would he have to halt the expansion, but that the entire business might go under. So she lied and she hid the truth in a variety of ways.

Since Cary was not very computer literate and left all of the number crunching to his wife, the secret was not hard to keep. Until of course, the bank called the loan. Then Cary and Janice had two problems to face. The financial woes were their immediate focus so as business partners they busied themselves untangling the mess that Janice had concealed. But as the dust settled from the financial nightmare, husband and wife had a to face a more serious crisis . . . how to restore the broken trust between them.

"What they don't know won't hurt them."

Even a surprise birthday party may be a secret not worth keeping, if the guest of honor doesn't like them. It is rare that secrets are a good idea and yet they are commonplace in family firms. The major reasons for keeping secrets are (1) to avoid disagreement and confrontation, (2) to protect someone from hurt feelings or even physical distress, (3) fear of punishment or embarassment for a wrong doing, (4) or just because you made a promise not to tell.

Why are secrets so bad if they don't hurt anyone? This is usually a rationalization. If you have to keep a secret, then it obviously affects other people. The content of the secret may or may not affect the other person adversely, but the question is, will keeping the secret affect the other person adversely? As we saw with Janice and Cary both the secret and keeping it powerfully affected the business and the relationship. There is no telling whether the couple could have saved their business had Cary known earlier of the miscalculations. However, by keeping the secret long after she should have told Cary, Janice seriously damaged the trust and the love between the two.

"But he'll get mad at me if I tell him the truth!"

No one likes an argument but it is foolish to think that you can go through life, build a marriage and a business without having disagreements. As compatible as family members may be, they are bound to disagree on some things and sometimes these disagreements escalate into angry confrontations. Therefore it is useful to develop conflict resolution skills, rather than avoid the anger.

The excuse that the other person will get mad if you level with him or her is a poor one. First, you never know if he or she will get mad. Second, even if he or she does get mad, the discussion doesn't have to end. Be brave and venture into conflict resolution. Third, the person may have every right to be upset that you withheld information (or fibbed) that affects his or her life. Think about it. How do you feel when a secret is kept from you, especially if your decisions depend upon the hidden information?

"It would be mean to be honest."

There is often the fear that you will hurt someone's feelings if you tell the truth, or worse that they will have a heart attack and die. The problem is that you have no right to assume responsibility for the other person's life or life decisions. When you keep a secret that affects the life of another, you are robbing them of the opportunity to take responsibility for their own destiny. Because Janice loved her husband, she wanted to insure the success of his dream. But by lying to Cary, she kept him ignorant of the information he needed to make a mid-course correction. He may still have failed had he known earlier what the financial picture looked like, but the success of the business and his own destiny would have been in his hands.

Essentially it is disrespectful to keep secrets. You are treating the other person as if they are incompetent to handle the truth. What makes you better able to handle the truth than the other person? Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes it is embarrassing. Sometimes the truth is a powerful leveler without which you would never know you are in over your head. When I received the phone call telling me that my ten-year-old daughter had just missed the cut for the soccer team, I had to tell her the truth. Not only had she failed to make the team, but that she wasn't quite good enough to play with this team. She cried and sobbed and was heartbroken over the failure. She even refused to eat dinner and went to bed early. However, the next day she obviously had learned an important lesson. She asked for new shinguards and went to the backyard to practice for next year's tryouts.

"I won't tell you unless you promise to keep it a secret."

Signs of maturity are honesty and reliability. When we give our word, we feel a strong compulsion to keep it, to be consistent with our image of an honest and reliable person. However, it is important to realize that promising to keep a secret is not a demonstration of maturity, but actually quite childish. As a businessperson, your success depends upon flexibility. Decisions made in 1982, while accurate at the time may no longer fit the business in the year 2000. You would be foolish to hold to old decisions just because you once made a promise. You are just as foolish to keep a secret just because you want to maintain an image of consistency.

Emerson once wrote, "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." To make a promise to keep a secret in the first place is foolish, but you double your foolishness by keeping the secret when the evidence shows how damaging it can be. To cover for an alcoholic in the family business brings destruction on everyone. To withhold information from your spouse because one of the children has asked you is disrespectful of your spouse and the child's ability to handle the problem out in the open.

Oh what a tangled web we weave . . .

There may be short-term gain in keeping secrets, but the long-term outcome is not worth the risk, especially when working with the ones you love. Openness in all things is the answer, even if it is embarrassing, anger-provoking, or hurtful. Don't keep secrets, but if you already have, break them. Admit your failure, apologize to those you have lied to and make a promise you can live with. That is, promise to be responsible for your own actions, and allow others access to their own destiny through the truth.

Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S. Licensed Psychologist and Family/Business Consultant is the author of ENTREPRENEUERIAL COUPLES: Making It Work at Work and at Home (Davies-Black, Palo Alto, 1998). She can be reached at (360) 256-0448 or

Can competition at work cost you your marriage?

Thursday, March 02, 2000

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Toni and Vance were really startled by how quickly their marriage was disintegrating after they started their small business together. They loved and enjoyed each other tremendously before they opened their shop but after working together for less than a year their relationship was tense and loving communication had ground to a painful halt. They considered that the stress of a start-up was getting to the two of them. They took a short vacation to the coast to get away from it all and found that they could indeed enjoy each other again. Yet when they returned to work, the tension started to build again. Why couldn't they keep the positive feelings alive?

Working together long hours to make a new business successful certainly can be a reason that a marriage starts to fail, but there's more to this problem than most young or even seasoned entrepreneurs take into consideration. The major reason entrepreneurial couples begin to experience the loss of love in their relationship is that the worlds of work and home are radically different in many ways. Think about it. The world of work is where we kick into high gear; where we drive ourselves to succeed; where we thrive on competition; where we want to express our talents in concrete ways such as producing a sale or a piece of art. The world of home, on the other hand is where we seek comfort, love and safety; where we nurture our loved ones and want their nurturing; where we kick back instead of into high gear.

There are similarities between these two worlds such as the facts that both require attending to details; that both require teamwork; and that both require problem solving. But the essential difference that can lead to marital failure is that work is the world of competition and home is the world of nurturing. All of us look forward to relaxing at home at the end of a hard day of competition in the work world. We want to regale our families with our accomplishments, our "coups," but after that we really want to take off our suits of armor and put on something more vulnerable.

When a couple works together both at home and at work, they can become confused about the roles they should play in both of these worlds. Often the aggressive pull of success and the push of competition eradicate the more subtle pull of love. Only when pushed by a chronic lack of intimacy or the pain of impending divorce, does the couple begin to recognize that they have lost something precious.

How does this problem begin? It's pretty simple really. Most of you picked your spouse because you love her or him, because he or she makes you laugh, because he or she is a "knock out." It is very unlikely that you chose your spouse as you would an employee or a business partner. You probably weren't thinking about money or competition or how to advance your career when you married. And when you set up housekeeping together you probably didn't write up a business plan to make your little love nest profitable.

Neither were you concerned about marketing, designing your letterhead, or the tax ramifications of an LLC. Instead your attention was on how to make the other person happy and how happy they made you feel. You sought affection, emotional support, and intellectual compatibility. Even sharing the household chores was not a major item on your list. Those things got taken care of somehow. And when it came to decision making, sometimes he got his way and sometimes she did.

As marital partners the more easy going style of most American couples will work fine as long as you don't become business partners. When a couple crosses that line into the world of work by becoming business partners, they must be prepared to do some major alterations to the relationship. In marriages where husband and wife both have a career but they don't work together, it is much easier to switch hats from work persona to home persona. You give your spouse a kiss goodbye in the morning and go on your separate ways for the day. You may make a phone call midday to catch up on private matters or just to say hello, but essentially your activities and identity are solidly ensconced in your work world. When you return home, you give your spouse a kiss, change your clothes, do a little catching up on each other's day, and prepare the evening meal together. At home your activities and identity are defined by your home world and your relationships with your spouse and children.

In other words for couples who don't work together, they have an independent identity at work and a partnership identity at home. With career-minded people the work identity is also a leadership one, involving authority for decision making. At home, these same independent leaders switch hats to become equal partners who share in the decision making. This is the norm in most American homes of dual-career couples. The problem arises when these equal home partners go to work with each other, either expecting to be equal partners at work too, or expecting to each be the decision maker as if they worked separately.

When you worked apart you may have enjoyed your spouse's stories of work achievements. You may even have taken pride in how aggressive or decisive your spouse was in his or her career. However, when you work together, that strong aggressive leadership quality may now look like arrogance. The two of you may tangle because you expect to be included in decisions that your spouse has already run with. When you come home at the end of your workday, you may feel that you have had enough of your spouse for one day. You don't desire anymore togetherness if you have to be bullied or ignored.

At least this is how it can go if you don't pay attention to the different roles husbands and wives play in the different worlds of work and home.

The solution first is to acknowledge that these two worlds are very different. Second recognize that daily conscious effort is required on your part to maintain a harmonious relationship with your spouse. If the two of you enjoy being equal partners at home, and wish to try being equal partners at work, then consciously design a work partnership where decision making is equal on at least the major decisions. This makes some things move more slowly, but it can be very effective for keeping love alive. If you are comfortable being home partners, but really prefer one person leadership at work, then acknowledge that too and set it up that way. No sense in trying to be equal partners at work, when one or both of you would gladly defer decision making responsibility to the other spouse. If you are somewhere in between these two styles, play with the structure for awhile until you discover what works in your marriage/business partnership.

Bringing competition home is probably the worst thing you can do for a marriage. Keep competition and achievement needs at work. When you work with your spouse in your own enterprise, keep in mind that you will be crossing the competition barrier daily. It is hard to stay kind and loving with the one you are competing with. We tend to take competition personally. The following are some ways to diffuse the tension of competition between spouses:

  • Set up separate work areas within the business.
  • Reward each other often for your individual successes.
  • Take breaks from each other often. Make a clean break from work at the end of the day. This latter recommendation is vital. Do not discuss work at all at home if your business requires that both spouses be leaders and you are both highly independent and headstrong (sound like anyone you know?). 

The most important thing to remember when you work together is why you chose your spouse in the first place. This is someone you love and trust and want to spend the rest of your life with. These qualities are not bad either for the kind of person you want as someone to help you build your dream in business.

Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S., Licensed Psychologist and Business Consultant is the author of ENTERPRENEURIAL COUPLES: Making It Work at Work and at Home (Davies-Black, 1998). She can be reached at (360) 256-0448 or

Do your and your spouse bicker at work and at home?

Thursday, January 06, 2000

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

"Oh yeah! I used to work with my wife, but not anymore. All we did was fight."

"We're great business partners, but at home we bicker constantly. What's wrong?"

"Work with my husband? Never! He never listens."

Bicker, bicker, bicker. Is this the price you pay when you work with your spouse? All too often this seems to be the case, but it doesn't have to be. If you understand conflict and develop strategies to de-stress problem situations, you and your partner can have the best of both worlds: a fantastic marriage and a successful business team. Here are some of tips for resolving the bickering.

Remember that the differences between the two of you are probably some of the reasons that made you fall in love with each other.

There may be many reasons for conflict, but a common one for spouses who work together is that you know each other too well. Remember when you first met, first fell in love, decided to get married? You probably didn't focus at the time on everything that you didn't like about your new love. In fact, you may have never noticed anything that big, but instead viewed those differences as thrilling. But over time, the differences between the two of you surface more and more. What once was ignored or even viewed as endearing is now a pain in the neck. Or your spouse may have qualities that worked well in the home when you didn't work together, but in the office they seem to make the two of you tangle.

One way to get past the bickering is to remind yourself that you love and admire this person. Your spouse has many great qualities that contributed to your choosing him or her as a spouse and a business partner. Focus on those qualities, not the behavior that annoys you.

People change over time, so bickering may be a sign that it's time to renegotiate your agreements (martial and business).

You can't possibly know everything about another person before marriage or even before becoming business partners. Who knows what qualities will emerge on a person as they enter new territory (which we are constantly doing throughout life)? Our basic personalities probably don't change that much, but how we apply our personalities to the experiences in life does shape and define us. Your spouse may be showing you a side of him or herself that you never

knew existed. Be careful not to resist this new information because it is different. Give yourself time to adjust to the change. Talk about it with you spouse. Evaluate how to incorporate the change into your marriage agreement and business partnership agreement. Change may be painful, but it is the very nature of living things to change.

Entrepreneurial couples should spend as much time cultivating joy in their relationships as they do focusing on the bottom line in their businesses.

It's just a fact. All of us work more than we would like to. Even when you love the work you do, you should strive to find balance among the other important parts of your life, such as your relationships with your spouse, family, friends and yourself.

Entrepreneurial couples are notorious for being all work and no play, and therefore the relationship suffers. Think about it. If you are bickering with your spouse/business partner, could it be because you have had no quality time lately? Or could it be because you are sleep-deprived? Or could it be that it's been a long time since you laughed?

Take the time to set your priorities and follow them. There will always be another phone call to answer and another deadline to meet that will draw you away from balancing your priorities. But you don't get that many chances to restore a faltering relationship. When the love, trust and respect is gone, it usually leads to divorce.

Be true to yourself and offer the same to your spouse/partner.

Entrepreneurial couples seldom have formal education or training in the art of living their unique lifestyle. So, through trial and error they come up with a system to get the job done, and they do so admirably, but the job is all that gets done. Sometimes the work is not very creative. Often the excitement and challenge that brought them into business wears thin. The result is a successful business that produces a good income for its owners, but leaving no room for personal and professional development. Then the bickering starts again.

It seems to be true that when we are bored, we bicker. When this happens, it is time to take stock of how the business is organized. Is the business truly a reflection of your talents, or is it running you? Are the spouses/business partners really suited to the jobs they currently have, or have they outgrown them?

If you are really being true to yourself and your partnership, duties should be assigned according to the best suited to the task. In other words, fully use your talents. For example, if the founder of the business doesn't have good people skills, perhaps the spouse should be president. That way the founder can keep doing what he or she does best, invent things for example, while the more people-oriented spouse can run the business and manage employees and customers.

Be full-time partners at home and at work.

Husbands and wives who work together often slip into efficiently getting things done, but in a hierarchical, military model. Research shows that copreneurs opt for the husband-boss/wife-employee model more often than other entrepreneurial or dual-career couples. Instead of equal partners, these couples slip into the traditional chain of command by which only one person can be the boss.

One day my husband was particularly exasperated with me and confronted me with this question, "Just who is the boss around here anyway?" I was startled, because I thought he knew! Taking a moment to compose myself I replied, "We both are."

A husband and wife, whether partnering at home as parents or partnering at the business, are both full-fledged adults who contribute to the joint venture. They both should take full responsibility for the outcome of the venture. In other words you are both 100 percent boss and 100 percent responsible.

I believe bickering for these couples is a sign that one partner or the other is feeling powerless in the relationship or business. If the decision-making power is vested with one person, but the other spouse still has major responsibilities but no authority, you have ripe territory for passive-aggressive behavior-bickering.

If you and your spouse are bickering about nothing in particular, or the same argument comes up over and over again, or you are bickering now that you work together but you didn't bicker before, or most important, you bicker but you never remember what it's about, take stock of the relationship and ask what needs to change. The simple answer is not to work together, but then you might be missing the most creative team you'll ever be a part of. Plus, you may miss those early warning signs that the marriage and/or the business plan need to be revamped.

Instead, take the bickering as growing pains and be grateful that you have a spouse who is so important to you that you care enough to get mad about their idiosyncrasies.

Could Your Wife Run The Business In Your Absence?

Tuesday, June 01, 1999

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Jay was 28 when he founded his sign business. He and his wife Teddie were thrilled when they opened their storefront and sent out the first announcements. As a young couple, they had a lot of energy and worked long hours getting the office and shop ready, buying supplies, arranging office furniture, developing a business plan, joining the local chamber and greeting their first customers.

Jay took over full management of the operation while Teddie kept her full time job as an account executive for a women's fashion company. But Teddie was there through all of the growing pains of the business too. She helped with billing and emptied the trash. She took messages for Jay at home in the evening when he was working late. The goal was to build the business to a level where she would quit her job and come to work with Jay. In the meantime her job provided a steady paycheck and other benefits such as insurance.

As the business grew, so did Jay and Teddie's family and responsibilities. With the first child, Teddie still managed to work full time because her mother and mother-in-law were willing babysitters. However, with the second baby, Teddie and Jay had to look at a more reasonable plan. It just wasn't possible for Teddie to work full time, care for two daughters, and help Jay in the business. Also Jay's Mom wasn't as healthy as she used to be and wasn't available for childcare anymore. Teddie's Mom was still helpful, but she and her husband had retired and wanted more free time. By the time their second daughter was born, the sign business was doing well enough to support the young family without Teddie's income. It would be tight, but the couple decided to take the plunge. Teddie quit her job to have the flexibility to care for her children and help out at the business.

For years Jay and Teddie ran the business this way. Although they shared equally in the ownership of the business and both worked long hours, Jay was really the manager and Teddie the home manager. Teddie would leave early to pick the kids up from school and get them to soccer practice and piano lessons. On some mornings she would come in late to the office because there was a dental appointment or a school field trip that she helped with. At the office, however, she was fully in charge of her department . . . everything that Jay didn't do, such as the bookkeeping, billing, purchasing and replanting the flowerbeds by the front door. Jay did the management, hiring and firing, marketing, customer service and the technical work. Amid all of this the children got more involved with the business, at first just watching dad build a sign, and later learning complex computer work.

If you are typical of most family business owners, you could probably plug your names into this scenario and change only a few details to make it your own story. Likewise, if you are typical of most small business owners, you do not have a succession plan. You have been so busy establishing and growing your business that you haven't looked that far ahead. You may not even have the confidence yet that your business will be around that long. Or you may decide to sell the business and build several other empires before you retire or die. When you were getting your business underway, it never occurred to you that you were building a legacy; you were just going after your dream.

If you are among the rare few who have considered succession planning, more than likely you and your spouse have discussed which child is best suited to be president or if management responsibilities should be shared by siblings. If you are in partnership with your brother, mother, sister-in-law, or some other family member, you probably have a legal and financial plan for how the partnership will transition should one or the other of you die or wish to be bought out. However, if the family business is a sole proprietorship such as Jay and Teddie have, and the husband is the founder and president, it's highly unlikely that you have considered your wife as a successor to the business leadership. Yet it is the wife who is most likely to be thrown into that position with the death of the founder where no succession plan has been established.

In 1984 McKinley conducted an interesting study in which she found that a widow was more than willing to take over management of the business upon her husband's death, especially if she had been working with her husband. But even among those widows not working in the business side-by-side with their husbands, there was a strong desire to take over the management. These widows reported that the business was very meaningful to them, that it was a part of their identity, that they had psychologically helped build the business. They did not want the business to pass out of their hands, even if they didn't know how to run it. Furthermore, most of the widows studied did not know how to manage their husband's business, because they had not been trained. Their function had been auxiliary.

They provided support such as Teddie has done for Jay. Therefore, these widows, untrained in the ins and outs of managing the family business, had to turn to their attorneys, CPAs and other advisors to educate themselves about the business. This is not sufficient training for the complexity of running a small business, as any business owner knows. But these particular women were determined and they learned as their husbands had done . . .by the seat of their pants.

This seat-of-the-pants training may have been sufficient for the founder, but it seems a waste to have the successor not benefit by her predecessor's lessons. Unless the business is a professional practice requiring college and certification that your wife could not readily get upon your death, preparing your wife to take over the business is a logical and practical step for most business owners. A side benefit is that once she is trained, the founder can turn his interests elsewhere, such as expansion or developing a second business entity. Growth of an empire is possible only when you have the flexibility and freedom to explore uncharted territory. If you are busy manning the helm, your growth will be limited to raising prices on product or adding a new line.

Preparing a wife for the presidency is no easy feat, however. It means acknowledging that the founder may die or wish to move onto something else. It means putting things into writing, such as compensation plans for your wife. It means letting go of control and allowing your wife to know all of the company secrets. It means that the marriage itself will be challenged. As the protégé grows in ability and leadership, the mentor may find himself eased out of power before he is ready. Can your marriage stand the strain of your wife being the boss, for example?

Making your wife your equal partner at work (provided she wants the job) and teaching her everything you know, will provide a solid succession plan. She will most likely be a devoted fan of yours and the business, and therefore a loyal and responsible guardian for the business. She will be a much better prepared widow than McKinley found in her study and less likely to lose the business. However, this also means redesigning the business today to accommodate two owners, two managers, two leaders. The consensus model of marriage that most Americans accept as the standard today will be brought into the business setting. Not only will husband and wife have to adjust to this change, but so will employees, customers and others used to a more hierarchical model. Be prepared to change the structure of management when your wife becomes your management partner. No longer can the founder fly by the seat of his pants. Although you may feel that your style is cramped when there are two of you to answer to, remember that having a well trained successor (and one who loves you) means that the business has a much more bright and stable future.

Living With an Authoritarian Entrepreneur

Monday, April 05, 1999

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

He's strong. He's driven. He works 70 hours a week. He loves his wife and children immensely. He feels alone. He needs a lot of emotional support. He is intolerant of laziness. He is a perfectionist. He doesn't sleep well. He never lets failure stop him from success. He doesn't trust many people, if any. He has a short fuse. He has to work for himself. When he plays, he plays hard too. He is an expert. He is reliable, when he's there. He always has the answer. He has an ironclad will.

He is easily hurt, especially by his family, who doesn't alwaysappreciate him. At least this is what he thinks. As an Authoritarian Entrepreneur, he believes that he is doing a good job for family and employees, regardless of their protests. He can only see his point of view and assumes that others agree with it or otherwise are too immature to understand. Because he believes he is doing what is best for everyone, he pushes ahead with his plans, often ignoring the challenges, complaints and cries of those he is pushing aside. He feels befuddled, hurt, and betrayed then, when his wife or a child leaves him or worse.

It is hard for this type of entrepreneur to understand that he is not the center of the universe. And it is equally hard for those who love him to know what to do to solve the serious emotional and relationship problems that are created in his high-energy wake. In fact the authoritarian entrepreneur has no awareness that he has any problems, which makes it exceedingly difficult to get help. He believes that complaints are coming from weak people who do not know how to run their lives, nor how to appreciate him for running theirs.

Often this type of entrepreneur is very successful at his business (although not all successful entrepreneurs are authoritarian).

Because of his drive and power, he can succeed where others fail, by sheer will power. He can be quite charismatic, so many will follow. But those who enter his inner circle, such as wife and children, know another side to this man. He can be selfish and cruel in his lack of trust for the very people who are closest to him. He can ignore their needs, giving love only when it is convenient for him. He is intimidating and will swiftly settle a dispute by severing the relationship.

The authoritarian entrepreneur is an example of a good quality gone awry. That is, he travels on the notion that "the end justifies the means." There is nothing wrong with having goals. In fact, goals are the rewards that all human beings strive for. But in addition to goals it is equally important to attend to the method of accomplishing those goals. If the means to the end are unethical or hurtful of others, it may be worthwhile to re-evaluate the methods to discover means that work just as well to accomplish the goal, yet are compatible and supportive of the ones you love. Not all goals are worth it, if they destroy the important human relationships you are working so hard to provide for. This end-justifies-the-means drive comes from an insecurity deep inside the authoritarian entrepreneur. Anything or anyone who gets in his way is likely to get run over, because he has such a strong need to prove that he is OK. The source of this insecurity depends upon the individual. It may come from a childhood experience of being abused or threatened by a critical, distant, or aloof parent, whom the entrepreneur could never please. It may come from the lessons of a traumatic experience, such as war combat, wherein the entrepreneur learned to stay alive by doing whatever it took. It may come from an actual organic disability, such as dyslexia, making schooling difficult, and the entrepreneur all the more determined to prove he is smart or smarter-than. Whatever, the reason, the authoritarian entrepreneur has a fear of failure, tucked away deep inside that drives him to succeed at whatever the cost.

As if this negative driving force were not enough to alienate wife, children, friends and employees, the authoritarian entrepreneur is in a never ending cycle. No matter how great his material success, these individuals never seem to believe that they have arrived. In fact, some wives report that the greater their husband's successes, the greater their drive, intolerance, cruelty, and . . . depression. It is the depression that is proof to the authoritarian entrepreneur that he has not yet achieved his goals, so he keeps pushing to drive the depression away. Unfortunately the depression is actually the signal that he is failing at life, that he is pushing away the loving relationships that can mend thewounds caused by childhood abuse, wartime combat or classroom humiliation. The very quality that helps the authoritarian entrepreneur survive childhood abuse, or life-threatening combat, or the ignominy of illiteracy . . . stubbornness, is both their strength and their demise. Being too stubborn to acknowledge their successes, and the love of their families is foolish and will destroy what they have worked so hard for. Yet stubbornness can be used to learn the skills to build a new life out of sharing the joy and love of personal achievement with your loved ones. If you are an authoritarian entrepreneur or the family member of one, use this stubbornness or personal strength to attack the problem and solve it. You have intelligence and drive. You have already proven that you can succeed. Now admit your flaws and rebalance your life. Grieve your losses. Learn to love. Break the pattern of insecurity in your family that began with an abusive parent, or a thoughtless teacher, or a war that shaped a vulnerable teenager. By keeping those fears buried, you are perpetuating the insecurity into the next generation. As much as that negative energy (i.e., fear, anger and depression) has served you to create wealth, it has also alienated your family. Is this really the legacy you wish to pass onto your children?

Achieving Harmony in the Family Business

Sunday, March 07, 1999

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

In January I was a speaker at the annual conference of the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship in San Diego. There were other presentations at the conference that were interesting and helpful too, but the one that really caught my attention was a panel of CEOs from successful family firms in the San Diego area. The title of the seminar was "What do family firms want from consultants?" The panelists discussed their most pressing concerns and the one that topped the list was how to create harmony among family members who work together. Although legal, financial and business consultants abound, these CEOs felt that they already had those matters covered. What they really want help with is communication and relationship skill building to create a meaningful and harmonious family/work life.

It's not hard to understand why this is so important to these California CEOs, as well as those of you living in the Northwest. It's one thing to run a successful enterprise, but if you have failed in your marriage, or you have alienated your siblings, or you have intimidated your children, then who do you share your successes with? Achieving harmony in personal relationships requires skill, time and commitment. As if that isn't enough, accomplishing these goals is that much more difficult when you also work with the ones you love, which requires negotiating a business relationship as well as a personal one.

I have reported before on the research showing that entrepreneurs will spend exorbitant amounts of time at work and short their families. Entrepreneurs (both male and female by the way) are willing to work early and late almost every day, but rarely will they report to work late or leave early. Perhaps once a month, they may leave the office early on a Friday night to be with their families. Yet in spite of this entrepreneurs will tell you that their loved ones are more important to them than their work. It's just that work is more compelling. Taking just one more phone call or putting the finishing touches to that important contract, or even solving an employee morale problem come before attending to the interpersonal relationships of CEOs in family firms.

When family members work together, it often turns into all work and no play.

The personal side of the family/business relationship is taken for granted. There seems to be a belief that "because we love each other and because we are family," there is endless tolerance and support for work at the expense of the relationship. Apparently this lack of attention to the personal side is what ruined the Hanshaw brothers. While in southern California at the conference, I happened to read an Orange County newspaper and learned of the bitter feud between Jack and Randy Hanshaw. The brothers had been in business together for years, along with several other family members. They each had outside interests as well. Together and separately they amassed a fortune. Starting out as a milkman in the 1960s, Jack started buying liquor stores and then strip malls. His brother Randy soon discovered the untapped potential of Arizona real estate. Each invested in the other's business and made it possible for others in the family to create wealth as well.

However, in 1994 Jack accused his brother Randy of cheating him and started a lawsuit. Randy hired his brother-in-law for his attorney, furthering the feuding within the family. In spite of repeated efforts to resolve the suit, it degenerated into "a highly emotional, mean-spirited war of brother against brother, with money no longer the real object" according to the judge involved. Because the brothers could not settle their dispute, the judge ruled to dissolve the partnership and appointed a reciever to divide the $6 million in property.

The receivership was humiliating enough for the brothers, but so enraged was Jack Hanshaw that he offered a $100,000 bribe to the reciever. Of course he was reported to the judge who then fined Jack another $700,000 for the criminal act. Oddly enough, it was discovered that Jack was the actual cheating brother. Not only did he attempt to bribe the receiver, a local bankruptcy attorney (and also my brother-in-law) but he had taken $500,000 of his brother Randy's money!
How do these things happen? They happen when minute problems are ignored and business comes first. Left unresolved these minute problems grow into small issues, which grow into average-sized resentments, then expanding into large stone walls of bitterness. Brothers who shared the same bedroom as children grow into the bitterest of enemies, willing to do whatever it takes to get revenge.

How can these things be prevented? Obviously at the point where the Hanshaw brothers are, there is no turning back. They may never again be able to enjoy each other's company. And sadly for the rest of the family, because the line has been drawn and sides have been taken, the entire family may never again be whole. But for those of you reading this column, prevention is simple if you follow the suggestions listed below. Remember that if you work in a family firm, most of your interactions with your family involve work. You need to give at least equal time to the personal side to keep communication, trust, love and respect healthy.

  1. Take time away from work every day to talk with your family/business partners about something other than work. You might start the morning with coffee and sharing the crossword puzzle.
  2. At least quarterly, arrange a retreat for the family firm that involves playing, such as a trip to the mountains to ski.
  3. Discuss all problems no matter how small, whether they are work issues or not.
  4. Allow for individual differences. Allow members to speak up in disagreement. Just because you are family and work together, does not mean you are all joined at the hip. So make room for new and different opinions and ways of doing things.
  5. Hang in there when there is a problem. Don't give up until you have a solution to the problem that is a winning one for everyone.
  6. If things get out of hand, ask for professional help.

Families are composed of individuals who love each other and have a commitment to take care of each other. Businesses are composed of individuals too, but there is not always the same level of either caring or commitment. When you combine family and business the values of this hybrid may be confusing for people. Keep the rules clear. Healthy loving relationships should always come before business needs, just as those CEOs in San Diego realized. If you are communicating openly and loving unconditionally, then family members in family firms should be able to grow successful family/businesses.

Family Business / Risky Business

Sunday, November 01, 1998

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Todd looked at me bewildered, as if to ask, "Can’t you make her see reason?" The tension in my office had been mounting between the couple as they discussed the likelihood of divorce. They had been at odds for years and everyone including friends, family, employees and business associates knew it. This couple never kept their disagreements secret. In fact, they openly fought in front of employees, just like Mom and Dad in front of the kids.

When the discussion got even more heated, I stepped in and tried to offer help to the husband who seemed so confused about his wife’s request for a divorce. "It’s simply that your wife doesn’t want to be your business partner any longer if she files for divorce." "She doesn’t trust you anymore," I said, "as a husband or a business partner." This couple had built a successful business over many years of hard work. But as the business had grown successful, the marriage had foundered. Now the wife wanted out ... out of the marriage and out of business.

Todd again looked at me as if I were speaking in riddles. "What’s trust got to do with it? I know that she wants a divorce. I am OK with that. But can’t she learn to be civil and still be my business partner? We stand to lose a lot of money if we have to split up the partnership."

Unfortunately this scenario is all too common among couples and families who work together. The focus is so much on the business, so much on business success, so much on financial profit, that the family fails to keep tabs on the loving relationships that made the business partnership possible in the first place. As they ignore the signals that their personal life is sinking into oblivion, these couples and families seem to put even more energy into the business. It’s as if they are trying to save the sinking ship by putting on a new coat of paint.

Entrepreneurial families and couples are starting businesses at a phenomenal rate right now. There are powerful incentives to do so.

Not only are there terrific financial and ego rewards from self employment, but couples find that there is great joy in working with the ones you love. Where else can you find a more trustworthy, reliable, confidential business partner than your spouse or close family member? Todd and his wife started out this way. They had a dream and worked hard to make it a reality. They wanted to provide a quality of life for their children that would enable them to achieve even more than their parents had. They wanted freedom to create something out of nothing. They wanted to go beyond the limits employers always placed on them. They wanted to help each other grow as individuals and in their business/professional lives. At first Todd and his wife Laura were ecstatic with their new lives. They looked forward to each new day. They worked long hard hours but they were doing it together. This "togetherness" was inspiring. Somehow, their combined effort was synergistic and they created even more than they dreamed they could alone. Then something happened. It didn’t happen with a bang, but snuck up on them. Inch by insidious inch, Todd and Laura lost track of themselves as individuals and as a married couple. Instead they were business partners only. The business consumed them. Vendors, customers, employees, business associates, the CPA, their attorneys ... all came before Todd and Laura and their love and friendship.

When Todd and Laura came to my office it appeared that all was lost for the marriage. The business was thriving and would carry on under the capable leadership of either one of them. There would be some financial loss, a few employees would quit, perhaps a contract would be lost, but ultimately, Todd and Laura had created a business that produced a quality service and customers were pleased and faithful. Even a divorce would not really threaten the business. Financial problems were not their worry. Rather, it was the value placed upon each of them as individuals and the value placed on their relationship that was suffering. This kind of problem erupts when entrepreneurs focus all of their attention on the competitive world of business and away from the nurturing world of family life and marriage.

When Laura asked Todd for a divorce, she made a bid for freedom from the tyranny of a one-track life. Better to get a divorce than go on living for nothing more than financial profit. Laura felt dead inside, something money could not heal, but love could. If Todd could no longer love her because the business had become his obsession, then she would seek love elsewhere. Laura was willing to admit that she had made the business her obsession too. It was not all Todd’s fault. She ignored the early warning signs just as he did. She too was thrilled with the status of achievement that came with self employment success. She even felt guilty for not doing something sooner so that she wouldn’t have to cause Todd such pain by asking for a divorce. "If only she had put her foot down sooner," she thought.

The problem that Todd and Laura created for themselves is brought on by two major errors. The first error is building your life around the business. Remember the business is there to serve you, not the other way around. The business is a result of your creative energy, your vision. It reflects your personality, but it is not the master. Todd and Laura’s business was a success because it reflected the synergy of their collective talents and energies. Without them the business would have never been.

The second error is failing to confront problems head on when they first appear. Todd and Laura knew that they were spending too much time on the business. They justified it in those start up years as a necessity to get the business going. They justified it as years went by to stay ahead of the competition. They continued to justify it in later years because work is all they knew. But as the business grew under their careful and committed hands, their relationship was left untended and shriveling into a shadow of what it had been when they started the business.

Is it so hard to turn off your pager or cell phone and take a walk with your sweetheart? Couldn’t you squeeze in a little time to read a novel if you put down the trade journal? How about joining an adult soccer league instead of attending more business after-hours meetings? In other words, attend to your life, your whole life, just as carefully and mindfully as you do your business. If you have it in your power to create a successful thriving financial enterprise, can’t you put similar energy toward your emotional- spiritual-relationship enterprises?

Dual - ing Entrepreneurs

Monday, September 07, 1998

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

When I returned to the office a few months ago I found a phone message from Dick Wilsdon indicating he wanted to talk with me about a recent column I had written. He was especially interested in the topic of competition among spouses who work together. Being somewhat of an expert on this topic, having researched the area for years, consulted with many entrepreneurial couples, and written not only countless Vancouver Business Journal articles, but recently published a book on the subject, I felt confident that I could answer Dick’s questions and give him a few pointers to boot! But with his first question I was stumped. "I was just wondering," he said, "if you knew anything about couples who operate competing businesses?"

Dick and Linda Wilsdon are such a couple, believe it or not. Dick owns Western Nugget Transportation and Linda owns All Americas. Both are transportation brokers and quite successful at it. Each has had the honor of being among the INC. 500, an annual award given by INC. Magazine to American companies who have distinguished themselves. The following is a run down on just how Linda and Dick do it.

There is an interesting story behind how this couple found themselves in competition. Certainly they didn’t plan this outcome. It was a natural progression of events. Entrepreneurs are like that. The successful ones allow nature to take it’s course and capitalize on it. Dick has always been an entrepreneur. He has owned several businesses, so it was a natural to move from being a trucker to being a transportation broker.

Linda on the other hand never thought of herself as an entrepreneur. Like so many women, entrepreneurship came as a result of helping out the family. In order to bring their son into the business, Linda started All Americas as a way to prepare their son for taking over Dick’s business someday. Mom and son were to work the business together. As it turned out, the son wasn’t interested after all, so Linda was left with the decision of letting the business go, joining forces with Dick and Western Nugget, or continuing on her own. With her husband’s encouragement and blessing, she took on the task of running All Americas on her own.

Although Linda had no business experience before starting All Americas, she took on the challenge and soon gave Dick a run for his money. While Dick was nominated to the prestigious INC. 500 in 1987, Linda was nominated just six years later because her business was booming. Linda talks about how scared she was to take over All Americas when her son left, but Dick had every confidence. He mentored her during those early years, but acknowledges that she has abilities that he lacks. He says, "This woman is the most fantastic people motivator I know. Watching her motivate people is like a symphony!"

Herein lies the key to the Wilsdon’s success as a competing dual-entrepreneurial couple. They have tremendous love and respect for each other. They consider each other best friends. Although they may disagree heartily about things, they make a point to work the arguments out. And they don't take things personally. When I asked Dick and Linda what advice they would give to other competing dual-entrepreneurial couples, they offered these three nuggets:

  • "Talk a lot."
  • "Be willing to give."
  • "Think of your spouse as a 60% partner ... 10% better than an equal partner."

Over the years the Wilsdons have demonstrated in their behavior that they really believe in this advice. They are early risers and in the morning over coffee the two of them discuss the business, their lives, the kids, etc. Because they enjoy each other’s company they do spend a lot of time together, so talking comes easily. They grocery shop and run errands together too, rather than allow efficiency to divide them up. And they love to travel, so they incorporate lots of play time together. Talking a lot doesn’t just mean discussing business. It’s a time to reconnect with your spouse/partner ... to let each other know that you love and respect the other person.

Being willing to give takes on another meaning for the Wilsdon’s too. Because Dick had already proven himself in business before Linda started her enterprise, he was in a position to mentor her.

He wasn’t really giving up anything by encouraging her to develop a competing business. His business is strong and profitable. Rather he views it as helping his wife be the best she can be. Dick loves having a strong, assertive, capable wife who keeps him on his toes. He admires her strengths and feels that he benefits from them too. After all if Western Nugget loses a bid to All Americas, he still reaps the financial rewards. And the friendly competition spurs his staff on to improve their performance.

The Wilsdon’s do have some rules about competing however. They never go after each other’s existing business. They only compete for new work. Everything is out in the open ... no secrets between them. Although they may enjoy rubbing it in once in awhile when one company has the edge over the other, they really enjoy helping each other win. In other words, I don’t really think they are in competition at all. Rather each has the goal of being the best they can be and encouraging that in their spouse.

The proof of all of this is right there at their company offices. Western Nugget and All Americas are side by side in a Hazel Dell office complex. Each business has it’s own legal identity and separate staff, but employees do cross over sometimes. Once the Wilsdon’s daughter worked for Dad and now she works for Mom. Interestingly Dick has a woman office manager and woman bookkeeper, while Linda has a man office manager and a man bookkeeper. They laugh and tell me that this is just a coincidence, but I wonder if it is just another way the Wilsdon’s keep things balanced.

The Wilsdon’s may be a unique couple in that they operate competing businesses, however, all entrepreneurial couples can benefit by the principles that they live by. It takes a lot of maturity to put your egos aside and encourage your partner’s talents, especially when they might show you up. It takes courage to accept criticisms from your spouse/partner and really hear these criticisms as helpful feedback from one who knows you well. It takes patience to listen and work through problems. Communicating regularly with your spouse/partner is often the last thing busy entrepreneurial couples do, but it is essential to a healthy business and a loving marriage.